I grew up knowing that I wanted to be a ballerina and I worked hard at it. By the time I was in high school I was in a pre-professional company taking 12 ballet classes per week plus rehearsals and shows. It was grueling, but I loved it. I was made to dance! It was more than a passion, I felt like it was a calling from God. I was confident that He was going to use my dancing for his glory.
When I was seventeen I auditioned for Ballet Magnificat’s trainee program and was accepted. So after I graduated high school I moved to Mississippi to train with them. It was a dream come true! The perfect combination of artistic excellence and ministry! I couldn’t imagine anything better!
Towards the end of the season that year, it came time for “evaluations”. “Evaluations” is kind of like a final exam, only worse. It’s that scary time of year where each trainee has to meet privately with the instructors to receive feedback on their dancing and learn of their fate. Some trainees are invited to stay another year in the same level, others are moved up to level 2, others are promoted to the professional company, and some unlucky ones are “released.” Which if we’re all honest is just a nice-ish word for rejected. Ouch.
I wasn’t too worried though because I was in level 1 and my friends told me that first year level 1 trainees never get “released.” Even if they thought I was a terrible dancer, I would almost certainly be invited to stay another year in level 1.
So, I was nervous as I walked up the steps into the meeting, but I was not prepared for the devastating blow I was about to receive. They were letting me go! I fought back tears and tried appear strong and unsurprised, but my roommates can tell you that it only lasted until the meeting was over. I was a mess.
Thankfully, my friends were really supportive and understanding. Brett, my fiancé at the time, was there too so I was able process the disappointment with him. They all said that God must have something better for me and I found great comfort in that. I might not be able to understand what God was doing but pretty soon I would be able to look back and see why it was better than my original plan. He was going to work it out for my good.
I still felt like God wanted me to keep dancing so I made plans to audition for the trainee program at Paradosi Ballet in Seattle. They required a solo piece for the audition and I picked the song “Gentle Savior” to dance to. The words of the song were my hearts cry. I was choosing to trust God even when I couldn’t understand what he was doing. It couldn’t have fit my situation more perfectly.
“Where are the signs? Which way should I go?
I planned each step but now I don’t know
Tomorrow is a chasm of uncertainty
But, I will go there, if you’ll go with me
Gentle Savior, lead me on
Let Your Spirit light the way
Gentle Savior, lead me on
Hold me close and keep me safe
Lead me on, gentle Savior”
I got accepted to train with Paradosi and Brett and I moved to Seattle after our honeymoon. Only instead of dancing, I sat out in the studio as I watched my health mysteriously deteriorate. New symptoms kept popping up, until one day I was too sick to even go to the studio. By October, I was bed bound. I was frighteningly ill and no one knew what was wrong. It got to the point where I needed full time caregiving. Just three months after our wedding, we moved to upstate New York to live with my parents and seek better medical care.
That marked the beginning of my 5 year battle with debilitating chronic illness. Excruciating pain, constant nausea, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, multi-hour panic attacks, crippling fatigue, extreme sound and light sensitivity, cognitive impairment, severe insomnia… I could go on. It was hell on earth. I spent most of my time in bed or in a wheelchair.
This year, we discovered that mold toxicity was driving my illness and my body is finally healing. As I come out of survival mode I am being confronted with the questions and grief I didn’t get to process when I was fighting for my life.
About a month ago, while I was doing laundry, I remembered that disappointed yet hopeful 19-year-old, dancing “Gentle Savior.” The memory pierced my heart like a sharp icicle. “I was so innocent.” I thought cynically. It left me with a bitter taste I didn’t dare put into words.
If I had, it probably would have said something like this:
God, I trusted you and you betrayed me. Gentle Savior? You tore me to pieces. Light the way? I never knew such deep darkness was possible. Hold me close? You withheld your presence while I screamed in agony. Keep me safe? I gave you my everything and you destroyed my life and body. Lead me on? You led me somewhere that was more horrible than I ever could have imagined.
But I didn’t let myself go there. Such unspiritual thoughts! Surely, these messy prayers could not be an expression of trust in God!
I shoved the feelings aside that day, but since then I’ve come to ask, “Could they?” Could these types of messy prayers be an expression of trust in God? Should I be letting myself go there?
And I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is yes. The Bible is full of prayers like these, full of laments. God was not ashamed or embarrassed to include prayers of questioning and complaint in His Word. He knew that His children would need the language of lament in this broken world.
And in His mercy, He included prayers like these:
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.
He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate
God is big enough. He can take it. If God was afraid that prayers of lament would stain His reputation, He wouldn’t have put them in the Bible. He can handle our cries of pain, confusion, and even accusation.
Lament isn’t something you hear a lot about in the western church today but it is an important part of the christian life. As someone who has suffered deeply, I have come to believe that it is a kind of prayer I must learn to pray if I want to experience renewed intimacy with God. So, I am choosing to open up that messy conversation even thought it’s awkward and painful.
Because when we feel like God has betrayed our trust, lament actually moves us towards Him. It is the proper response. When we stifle our laments and instead force praise we keep God at arms length. It’s in wrestling with Him that we come to know Him as He really is.
Through lament we gain a deeper trust. A trust in God’s character, in who He is. Because maybe, God didn’t actually betray my trust. Maybe my trust in Him was too short-sighted and shallow.
I thought trusting Him meant believing that He was going to bring something good out of my rejection, something better than staying at Ballet Magnificat. That in another year, I would be able to look back and say, “Wow, it was really good that I didn’t stay at Ballet Magnificat. This new plan is better for the kingdom and better for me. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
You see? I was trusting God for an outcome. I was trusting Him that He’d either lead me into something even better than what I originally wanted or else change my desires so that I would want something else. It’s not that I was trusting God to give me something specific but I trusted that He would give me something I could understand and recognize as good.
That didn’t happen. The next five years were horrific. The broken dreams paled in comparison to the agony of a body that seemed intent on death. Even worse, God withheld His presence through just about all of it.
A debilitating chronic illness was definitely not within the realm of possibilities that I foresaw. But that’s what I got, and it’s forced me towards a deeper and truer trust. A trust in God’s ultimate goodness. A trust that He will use even the most horrible things I’ve endured for my personal good and for the cosmic good.
At this point, I haven’t seen enough good come out of my illness to honestly say that it was worth it. I think I might die feeling that way, but I trust that in heaven I will be able to see how God wove my tiny story perfectly into the rest of history. I will see that the world is better and happier because of my suffering. I will see that my family and friends are better and happier because of my suffering. I will see that my husband is better and happier because of my suffering. I will see that I am better and happier because of my suffering. I will look back on the story of my life and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
And so my friends, when God betrays your trust… Don’t walk away, don’t harden your heart, and don’t come with empty praises. Approach Him honestly with your questions, sorrows and accusations. Lament, and through lament discover a deeper, richer, truer trust in God.